Some title races go to the wire. That was not the case in Estonia this season. FC Flora's procession to their third straight championship was worthy of a team who have proved themselves supreme in the Baltic republic since Dutch coach Arno Pijpers took over for the 2001 campaign.
A 2-0 victory against JK Trans Narva on 17 October took Flora out of reach of nearest rivals FC TVMK Tallinn, and set a new club record run of 12 consecutive wins. With 27 of 28 games played, Flora are still unbeaten, having been held to draws on only four occasions and having won their most recent match against bottom side FC Kuressaare, 17-0.
They will not be the first team to complete an Estonian season undefeated if they negotiate their final league game at TVMK on Sunday. Flora themselves achieved that feat in 1994/95, and FC Norma won 20 and drew two of their 22 matches two seasons before that, following a defeat-free season in the first post-independence championship. However, having won seven of the 13 post-Soviet titles, few would dispute that Flora are the masters of the Meistriliiga.
'Proved their class'
They are now only two titles away from equalling the nine successes of pre-war Tallinn giants FC Sport, and as Pijpers sipped champagne after the home win against Trans, his delight at this year's honour was evident. "
As usual, the latest title tastes the best, as it is so fresh," he said. "It was important for us to secure the win here at our home ground. The boys were a bit nervous tonight, but eventually proved their class."
It is the holy grail of all coaches to find the right blend of youth and experience, and Pijpers may have located it at the A Le Coq Arena. Teenage products of Flora's flourishing youth system like Enar Jääger and Ott Reinumäe have been regulars throughout the season, as has 17-year-old summer signing Ragnar Klavan, alongside experienced internationals Martin Reim and Marko Kristal. Even injuries to Reim and Kert Haavistu, and the departures of Aleksandr Tarassenkov and Aleksandr Kulik, did not knock the team off their stride.
The victory is extra special for Reim and Kristal, who have been part of all seven championship triumphs - a post-war record and only two behind Sport stalwart Heinrich Paal. When informed of the achievement by uefa.com, Kristal, Estonia's most-capped player, said: "I must tell Martin that we have to play and win for another three years to beat Paal. But seriously, we are always going to play for the gold. Seven titles is something special.
I have to enlarge my trophy cabinet."
But perhaps the true hero of Flora's season is prolific Norwegian forward Tor Henning Hamre. While he failed to make it 16 goalscoring games in a row in Flora's midweek stalemate at Trans, he made amends by registering seven times against Kuressaare on Sunday to bring his seasonal tally to 39 - breaking the 37-goal record shared by Maksim Gruznov and Andrei Krõlov.
They may have lost the Estonian Cup final on penalties to TMVK and exited the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round against Moldova's FC Sheriff, but this has been another awesome season for Flora and their domination shows no sign of ending.
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